Much Ado About Nothing (2013)


There's nothing quite like a civilized after-dinner cocktail.

There’s nothing quite like a civilized after-dinner cocktail.

(2013) Comedy (Roadside Attractions) Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Sean Maher, Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, Ashley Johnson, Emma Bates, Tom Lenk, Nick Kocher, Brian McElhaney, Joshua Zar, Paul Meston, Romy Rosemont, Elsa Guillet-Chapuis, Sara Blindauer. Directed by Joss Whedon  

When William Shakespeare wrote “the play’s the thing,” movies hadn’t been invented yet. I wonder if he had been born in modern times if he’d have written something different. Certainly the way that comedies and dramas are written have changed in the intervening years, not to mention how they’re performed – and received.

But some things haven’t changed – human nature, for one. We are as prone to meddling in each other’s lives as we always have been. We can still laugh at buffoonery. And love can still be found in the unlikeliest of places – and the unlikeliest of couples.

The Southern California home of Don Leonato (Gregg) is all abuzz. Don Pedro (Diamond) is coming to visit for a few weeks, his retinue including the young Claudio (Kranz), the somewhat malevolent Don John (Maher) and the soldier Benedick (Denisof). Leonato’s daughter Hero (Morgese) has goo-goo eyes for Claudio but her cousin Beatrice (Acker) has nothing nice to say about men in general but Benedick in particular. Beatrice and Benedick have a past but there is nothing but constant sniping at one another between them now.

Pedro, seeing the state of things, vows to help create a match between Claudio and Hero, who stands to inherit Leonato’s substantial fortune. On a lark, Claudio, Pedro and Hero decide to get Benedick and Beatrice together just because they think they can – only Don John has plans to sabotage everything.

Much Ado About Nothing has been described as Shakespeare’s love letter to love and it does seem to indicate that much of what is wrong with the world can be cured through the love of a good woman (or a good man). I can’t say I disagree; love is what makes this world bearable, with all the pettiness and dishonesty we all deal with on a daily basis. As human beings we are all flawed but it is in love that we find our noblest aspirations and features.

Whedon filmed this during a break in his Avengers duties and it seems to have re-energized him. He’s also been a long-time admirer of Shakespeare and conducts regular readings of his plays at his home, so the thought of a director as connected to sci-fi and comic book movies as Whedon is isn’t as radical an idea as it might seem.

Loving Shakespeare and capturing his essence are two entirely different things however. I’m definitely down with changing the setting from 16th century Messina to modern Santa Monica, and I’m even more down with filming the proceedings in glorious noir-ish black and white. I’m also for keeping the Bard’s original dialogue because you simply aren’t going to improve on that.

However, Shakespeare’s language has a certain rhythm that is very different than our own, and while I don’t think one has to be a stentorian Englishman in order to deliver it properly, you certainly have to be able to make it sound organic and authentic. Sadly, not all the actors were successful in that regard.

Fillion, as Constable Dogberry, is perhaps the most successful. Dogberry is comic relief through and through and Fillion gets the nature of the character as a bit pompous and a bit foolish but also a bit thin-skinned. He gets the subtlety of the character and so makes him the fool without making him a caricature. Acker, as Beatrice, also gets the nature of her character as well as the rhythms of the speech; while when certain actors say “How now?” with a bit of a smirk, she instead treats it as language she uses every day and that really is the secret – every word sounds natural coming out of her mouth.

 

I like the atmosphere of upscale SoCal hipster that Whedon creates here. It serves the play well, and while nearly all the action takes place in a single location, it never feels stage-y at all.  Whedon adds a lot of physical business that enhances the comedy nicely (as when Claudio intones “I would marry her were she an Ethiope” in front of an African-American woman whose expression is just priceless). Although Da Queen would have preferred a color presentation rather than black and white, I liked how it gave the movie a kind of timeless look.

Friends of mine who had trouble following some of the dialogue because it is in Elizabethan English still managed to love the movie in spite of it. Don’t let that keep you away though – I think you should be able to follow the movie just fine even if a few phrases and words might throw you every now and again – you’ll figure it out.

For those who aren’t into Shakespeare and wonder what all the fuss is about, this is a nice starting point. For those who love Shakespeare and wonder what sort of liberties have been taken, fear not – this is still the Bard, despite the modern setting which simply reminds us how timeless his wisdom and prose are. Any movie that can do both of those things for two different kinds of audiences is a winner in my book.

REASONS TO GO: Very funny in places. Some very good performances.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the actors really didn’t get the nuances or the rhythm of the language of Shakespeare.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some brief drug use as well as a bit of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was mostly filmed at Wheden’s own home over a 12 day period.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/25/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100; the critics liked this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Taming of the Shrew

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: The Family Tree

New Releases for the Week of June 21, 2013


Monsters University

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

(Disney/Pixar) Starring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Julia Sweeney, Aubrey Plaza, John Krasinski. Directed by Dan Scanlon

A prequel to the “monster” (har de har har har) Pixar hit from 2001. Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan are wide-eyed, fuzzy-cheeked young men attending college at Monsters U. for their freshman year. Both have dreams of becoming scarers, but whereas Sully is a natural born scarer, Mike seems to be his own worst enemy. When their escalating rivalry gets them both kicked out of the program, they realize they’ll have to join forces in order to make things right.

See the trailer, promos, a interview and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

The Bling Ring

(A24) Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Tarissa Farmiga, Claire Julien. Based on actual events, a group of fame-obsessed Los Angeles teens start cyber-stalking various celebrities and eventually, break into their homes and steal their stuff. At first something of a lark, it grows into something larger and darker. Oscar-nominated director Sophia Coppola is in the big chair.

See the trailer, a featurette and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Crime

Rating: R (for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references) 

The Kings of Summer

(CBS) Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Megan Mullally. A trio of disenchanted teens, tired of living with the parents, decide to declare their independence, building their own domicile in the nearby woods and swearing to live off the land. Of course, we all know how well that’s going to work – they’re teenage boys after all.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language and some drinking)

Much Ado About Nothing

(Roadside Attractions) Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg. Shakespeare’s classic romance about the two unlikeliest of lovers who are thrust into the bowels of romance due to the machinations of their friends. Adapted and directed by Joss Wheden, last scene directing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes which is sure to bring out an audience of jaded hipsters. You’ve been warned.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexuality and brief drug use) 

Raanjhanna

(Eros) Dhanush, Sonam Kapoor, Abhay Deol, Swara Bhaskar. A young man grows from childhood to adulthood in love with a young woman who is a complete mystery to him. As he grows into adulthood, his life will be complicated by her in ways he couldn’t predict.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

World War Z

(Paramount) Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Matthew Fox, David Morse. As a pandemic turns the world’s population into zombies, a United Nations employee goes around the world in a race against time to find out the source of the plague before the zombie apocalypse goes from popular bar conversation to disturbing reality.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images) 

Four-Warned: June 2013


Man of Steel

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. MAN OF STEEL (1.0)
2. THIS IS THE END (1.3)
3. WORLD WAR Z (1.6)
4. WHITE HOUSE DOWN (1.8)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. THE ATTACK (1.0)
2. 20 FEET FROM STARDOM (1.1)
3. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1.3)
4. A HIJACKING (1.4)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JUNE 7, 2013

 

 

AS COOL AS I AM (Radiant Films International) Genre: Dramedy. A middle aged couple, married too young, try to recapture their lost youth while their teenage daughter struggles to define who she is. Release Strategy: Limited . RATING: 2.4 Claire Danes and James Marsters make a compelling couple and Sarah Bolger has near-limitless potential.
EVOCATEUR: THE MORTON DOWNEY JR. MOVIE (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. A look at one of the early conservative TV pundits. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.9 A train wreck, sure, but one we should all know to understand modern media politics.
FINDING JOY (Kreate) Genre: Comedy. A writer uses his eccentric family to help make the life of a dying woman better. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Looks pretty offbeat – maybe too offbeat.
HEY BARTENDER (4th Row) Genre: Documentary. In this era of craft cocktails, bartending has changed and this film looks at two very different bartenders; one an injured war veteran trying to realize his dreams, the other trying to keep a neighborhood bar afloat. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks far more fun than Cocktail.
THE INTERNSHIP (20th Century Fox) Genre: Comedy. A pair of out of work salesmen who are somewhat old school get an internship at Google realizing this might be their last chance. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 I liked Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in The Wedding Crashers but this doesn’t look half as good.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A pair of mismatched lovers tumble headlong into love. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.3 Shakespeare as interpreted by Joss Wheden? Color me intrigued…
PASSION (eOne) Genre: Thriller. Two women – a mentor and her protégé – fight for corporate dominance and for a shared lover. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 A remake of the French thriller Love Crime with Brian DePalma at the helm and Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace in front of the camera – sounds like a winner to me.
THE PURGE (Universal) Genre: Thriller. In the near future, one night a week crime is neither policed nor prosecuted and Americans retreat into heavily fortified bunkers but when one family open up theirs to a desperate man, they put all their lives at risk. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Looks not unlike The Strangers meets Hostage.
RAPTURE-PALOOZA (Lionsgate) Genre: Comedy. After the rapture actually occurs, those who remain behind discover that the post-Apocalypse is nothing like what they thought it’d be. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Great idea but the trailer doesn’t look particularly funny.
SYRUP (Magnet) Genre: Comedy. A wide-eyed college graduate enters the world of marketing and discovers that his quest for fame and fortune may cost him more than his integrity. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 Does the world need a movie about how cynical marketing is? It’s like shooting fish in a barrel isn’t it?
TIGER EYES (Freestyle) Genre: Drama. A teenage girl mourning the violent death of her father meets a teenage Native American boy who leads her to find her inner strength and the path into life and love. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 Based on a Judy Blume-penned bestselling novel for young adults and directed by her son Lawrence.
VIOLET AND DAISY (Cinedigm) Genre: Comedy. Two teenage assassins take a surreal and violent trip through New York City. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Looks like something that defies categorization and with a cast including Saoirse Ronan and James Gandolfini could be worth a look.
THE WALL (Music Box) Genre: Fantasy. A woman, left with only her dog for company after a mysterious invisible wall cuts her off from the rest of the world, embarks on a journey of spiritual growth. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles June 14) RATING: 1.8 Sounds a lot like Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” until you realize that the Marlen Haushofer novel that this is based on predate King.
WISH YOU WERE HERE (eOne) Genre: Thriller. The lives of two couples are irrevocably changed on a fateful night during a vacation in Cambodia. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 A clever-looking Australian film starring super-hot Joel Edgerton.

JUNE 10, 2013

 

 

PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER (HBO) Genre: Documentary. Three young Russian women, an art collective known as Pussy Riot, performed a 20 second Punk Prayer in the main cathedral in Moscow and would be put on trial for religious hatred. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 A very thought-provoking conversation on freedom of speech, the limits thereof and whether laws protecting that freedom actually prevent it.

JUNE 12, 2013

 

 

MORE THAN HONEY (Kino Lorber) Genre: Documentary. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Markus Imhoof looks at why bees worldwide seem to be going extinct and the disturbing answers he discovers. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 A chilling message beautifully photographed.
THIS IS THE END (Columbia) Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy. The apocalypse is visited upon us during a really good party at actor James Franco’s house. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.3 Could very well be the best comedy of the year – at least it looks like the least self-indulgent.

JUNE 14, 2013

 

 

APOSTLES OF COMEDY: ONWARDS AND UPWARDS (XLRator) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A look at Christian stand-up comics. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.8 Not really my thing but some of the acts looked pretty funny.
BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (IFC) Genre: Thriller. A sound engineer working on an English horror film in 1976 begins to blur the line between film and reality. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Has the vibe of the European thrillers of the late 60s and 70s; could have been a Polanski film back in the day.
THE BLING RING (A24) Genre: Crime Dramedy. Based on actual events, a group of bored Southern California teens begin burglarizing Hollywood stars for the connection to their fame. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Sofia Coppola’s commentary on our obsession with celebrity taken to extremes.
THE GUILLOTINES (Well Go USA) Genre: Martial Arts. Assassins for the former emperor of China have become hated and feared by the new regime; they relocate to a small village where they will be attacked by both sides. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 I have a soft spot for these martial arts epics and with Andrew Lau at the helm it should be a particularly good one.
HATCHET III (MPI/Dark Skies) Genre: Horror. Survivor Marybeth teams up with a vengeful cop and his ex-wife to end the hatchet-wielding madman’s reign of terror in the Louisiana swamps once and for all. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Looks pretty much like standard slasher fare. Nice to see Zach (Gremlins) Gallagher onscreen again though.
MAN OF STEEL (Warner Brothers) Genre: Superhero. The legend of the iconic American superhero Superman is retold. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.0 Zack Snyder looks like he’s hit a home run with this one.
STORM SURFERS 3D (XLRator) Genre: Documentary. A pair of surfing legends track huge Pacific storms to find the ultimate waves to ride. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.3 Not a big surfing fan; it will depend on how engaging the subjects are.
THE STROLLER STRATEGY (Rialto) Genre: Romantic Comedy. When a baby unexpectedly enters the life of a bachelor, he pretends to be its real father in order to win back the heart of an ex-girlfriend. Release Strategy: New York city only. RATING: 2.4 Meh. The French excel at this kind of thing but the trailer left me flat.
TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM (Radius) Genre: Documentary. The most heralded and respected backup singers in the history of rock are profiled in a “you know their voices but not their names” celebration. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.1 This year’s opening night film at the Florida Film Festival; you can read my review of it here.
VEHICLE 19 (Ketchup) Genre: Action. A parolee picks up the wrong rental car and realizes that the woman tied up in the trunk is being chased by corrupt city officials who want to silence her. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 A Luc Besson-style action film; could be good.

JUNE 21, 2013

 

 

A HIJACKING (Magnolia) Genre: Drama. When Somali pirates hijack a freighter, a psychological game of cat and mouse ensues between the pirates and the cynical CEO of the company that owns the freighter with the crew caught in the middle. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.4 Looks absolutely riveting; could well be one of the best movies out there this month.
THE ATTACK (Cohen Media Group) Genre: Drama. A Palestinian surgeon living in Tel Aviv is shocked to discover that his wife, who perished in a suicide bombing, may have been the bomber. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 Wow! Incredibly intense trailer, wrenching concept, might this be the movie of the year?
BETWEEN US (Monterey Media) Genre: Drama. Two couples who’ve known each other a long time discover that their lives haven’t gone according to plan. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 While listed as a comedy, this looks more like a drama; good cast, worth checking out.
LIARS ALL (Phase 4) Genre: Psychological Thriller. A party game goes horribly wrong when it turns out that one of the players is a killer. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Dunno bout this one; has the air of a generic thriller about it.
MANIAC (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. The women of Los Angeles are stalked by a serial killer who was abused by his own mother. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A remake of a 1980 horror classic but this time the killer is…a hobbit?!
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (Disney*Pixar) Genre: Animated Feature. Future scarer Sully and his handler Mike Wazowski are initially rivals in college but must work together in order to get themselves reinstated after their rivalry gets out of control. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D). RATING: 1.9 Is it just me or is Pixar getting a little too involved with sequels lately?
RUSHLIGHTS (Vertical Entertainment) Genre: Thriller. A pair of delinquent teen lovers try to falsely claim a dead friend’s inheritance in a small town in Texas and get in over their heads in a web of corruption and greed. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 While I generally like Aidan Quinn, this doesn’t look like it’s going to be the top of my list of my favorite movies that he’s in.
UNFINISHED SONG (Weinstein) Genre: Drama. An elderly curmudgeon finds solace singing in a choir. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 One of the more moving films from this year’s Florida Film Festival.
WORLD WAR Z (Paramount) Genre: Horror. A United Nations employee must race against time to save the world from a zombie plague that threatens to end life as we know it. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 While I’m eager to see this, I have to admit the buzz on this hasn’t been positive.

 

SING ME THE SONGS THAT SAY I LOVE YOU: A CONCERT FOR KATE MCGARRIGLE (Horse) Genre: Musical Documentary. The late folksinger is honored with a concert organized by her children. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 A genuinely moving tribute but I have only been able to catch a brief excerpt of the film.

JUNE 28, 2013

 

 

A BAND CALLED DEATH (Drafthouse) Genre: Musical Documentary. In the mid ’70s, an African-American rock trio bucked convention by making violent, loud, fast music that would later be called punk but the world wasn’t ready for it quite then. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 A testament to family and great music; initially I was wary of it but after watching the trailer I’m really curious to see it.
BYZANTIUM (IFC) Genre: Gothic Horror. Two mysterious woman take refuge in a crumbling resort turn out to be vampires. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.7 Neil Jordan is an amazing filmmaker and the trailer tells me this might be one of his very best.
COPPERHEAD (Brainstorm) Genre: Drama. A stubborn farmer in upstate New York defies neighbors and state in the early days of the Civil War. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 From the director of Gods and Generals comes a look at those who opposed the war and the consequences they faced.
THE HEAT (20th Century Fox) Genre: Buddy Cop Comedy. A by-the-book FBI agent and a loose cannon Boston cop reluctantly join forces. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.2 Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy make about as odd a couple as they come but I’m fond of both actresses.
I’M SO EXCITED! (Sony Classics) Genre: Comedy. When mechanical problems imperil a flight bound for Mexico City, the passengers and crew work out their own personal problems in unique ways as they wait for salvation – or death. Release Strategy: New York City/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.7 Director Pedro Almodovar is something of an acquired taste but at his best he’s amazing.
LAURENCE ANYWAYS (Breaking Glass) Genre: Drama. A loving couple find their relationship challenged when the man reveals his desire to live as a woman. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Xavier Dolan has some of the most potential of any director in North America.
REDEMPTION (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Drama. After returning home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, a homeless vet gets caught up in a web of crime and revenge. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 Could well be one of the best performances of Jason Statham’s career.
SOME GIRL(S) (Leeden Media) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A successful writer on the eve of his wedding travels cross country to make amends to various romantic interests that he wronged in some way. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 A pretty decent cast actually; hopefully this one turns out a cut above most of the rom-coms we’ve seen lately.
WHITE HOUSE DOWN (Drafthouse) Genre: Action. While touring the White House with his daughter, a cop rejected for the Secret Service may be America’s only hope when the building is attacked. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.8 The second of two similarly themed movies to be released this year will do well if it’s as good as Olympus Has Fallen.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The Internship, Much Ado About Nothing, The Purge, This is the End, Man of Steel, Monsters University, Unfinished Song, World War Z, The Heat, Redemption, White House Down